History Mount Nelson
The Mount Nelson in the 1910s

Mount Nelson

The 'Nellie', as it is affectionately known, opened its doors in 1899 to great excitement but there was also trepidation and uncertainty in the air due to the impending Anglo-Boer war. Consequently there was a feverish urge to gather with friends and party at the newly opened hotel. When the war broke out towards the end of the year, the great statesmen of the time, such as Lords Kitchener, Buller and Roberts, gathered at the Mount Nelson to discuss strategy. A young Winston Churchill was also a guest as a newspaper correspondent reporting on the war.
The guest list comprises all the 'usual suspects', the great travellers who criss-crossed the globe in search for distraction and certainly to escape the cold European winter. Of coures the Britsh Royals arrived, there was the Prince of Wales for whom the hotel erected a monumental gateway, the entire Royal family travelled to Cape Town after World War 2, and so did so many others. Agatha Christie spent memorable days there, so did Noel Coard, Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle and John Lennon.

Please refer to the list of famous visitors on this site to get a better overview of the famous visitors. Until today, the hotel remains the grand old lady of South Africa and it is certainly one of the most famous hotels in the world.

mount nelson famous hotels

mount nelson famous hotels
Verandah at the Mount Nelson

1488:    The first European to reach the Cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias.
Dias named it the ‘Cape of Storms’ (Cabo das Tormentas). The Cape was later renamed by John II of Portugal as ‘Cape of Good Hope’ (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East.
1652:    The first Dutch settled at the Cape.
1652:    Set in nine acres of lush gardens on the lower slopes of Table Mountain (so named because its top is so flat that voluminous clouds frequently flow over it, creating a tablecloth effect), the Mount Nelson stands in gardens established in the mid of the 17 century by the country’s founder, Dutchman Jan Van Riebeeck.
1795:    During the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch Republic was occupied by the French. The United Kingdom invaded and occupied the Dutch Cape Colony that same year, relinquished control of the territory in 1803, only to return and reoccupy the Cape in 1806.
1805:    Battle of Trafalgar.

restaurant mount nelson
Historic view of the restaurant at the Mount Nelson.

1806:    In memorial of the hero of Trafalgar, William Mauldin, the owner of the land in the table valley where the hotel stands today, called his estate Mount Nelson. The name appeared for the first time in the Cape Town Gazette and African Adviser on 1 August 1806.
1814:    The South African territory was ceded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty and was thereafter administered as the Cape Colony.
1869:    The Suez Canal opened, creating a navigable passage for steam ships between the Far East and the Mediterranean.
Overnight, the route around the Cape of Good Hope paled in comparison to the less time consuming Canal. The brief and glorious reign of the tea clippers was over, the Cutty Sark (1869), became one of the last tea clippers to be constructed.
1876:    With the Suez Canal in place, shipping between Europe and the Cape concentrated on mail, provisions and passengers.
Two competitors, the Union Line and the Castle Shipping Line tried to outdo each other by sailing as fast as possible and employing larger and more luxurious steamers. Bets were placed on the different mail ships.
1880:    During the ‘80s, the prestige of Cape Town as a great host, ‘The Tavern of the Seas’, was undisputed. So was its bad reputation concerning its hotels: ‘The very best hotel in Cape Town would disgrace the meanest, dirtiest, most insanitary village in England,’ wrote William Clark Russell, England’s famous nautical novelist.
Finally, Sir Henry Loch, Governor of the Cape colony and British High Commissioner of South Africa declared in 1890 that the city is in dire need of superior hotel accommodation.
1890:    Under the farsighted leadership of Castle Line chairman Donald Currie the Cape Land Company, a Castle Line subsidiary, purchased the Mount Nelson estate, with the intention to build a hotel to accommodate their passengers in style. The hotel in this most airy and healthy part of Cape Town should surpass all international standards. Legal affairs delayed the development until 1897.
1894:    The Union Line opened the luxurious Grand Hotel in Cape Town. It was considered the most sumptuous hotel South of the equator, with a French chef, lifts and electric light – luxury unseen before at the Cape.
1897:    Cape Land Company, the owner of the Mount Nelson estate, transferred the property to its hotel subsidiary African Lands and Hotel Limited. The Mount Nelson Hotel was built.    Designed by London architects Dunn and Watson, the new Mount Nelson Hotel was filled with rich and comfortable furnishings from Europe.
Herbert Baker was involved, but the only building the ‘architect of South Africa’ built at the Mount Nelson was a laundry department.

1899:    On 1 March 1899, the Mount Nelson Hotel opened for business.

‘London, the capital of the world, would not be able to produce anything superior.’
The Cape Times, 3 March 1899

1899:    Only a few months after its opening the hotel became the inofficial headquarters of the Second Boer War, which broke out in October 1899. On 17 January 1900, Lord Kitchener and Field Marshall Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts made the Mount Nelson their base.
1900:    The Union Line and Castle Shipping Line merged, creating the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, with a well accorded timetable and interchangeable tickets.
1910:    The Cape Colony was incorporated into the independent Union of South Africa (now known as the Republic of South Africa).
1920s:    After World War I, the cream of the British society came every year with the mailships, sometimes leaving crates of luggage at the hotel for the next winter. One even kept a Rolls Royce in a nearby garage.
1921:    The side wings were extended, drawings by Herbert Baker’s partners Kendall and Morris.
1924:    Kendall and Morris planned the monumental gateway portico and the Palm Avenue (57 Canary Island Palms) to Mount Nelson, a new Cape Town landmark.
1939–1945:    During World War II, various international artists arrived in Cape Town to entertain the troops and civilians. The arrival of Englands playwright, singer and actor Noël Coward (‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’) saw some 30,000 people (below) greeting him upon arrival. He spent 19 days at the Mount Nelson.
1947:    King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, arrived for a three month visit to the countries of Southern Africa.
1958:    A heated swimming pool along with a bar and a restaurant in a new extension became an additional attraction of the hotel.
1964:    The entrance extension was built.
1967:    The worlds’s first human to human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town by Christiaan Barnard.
1968:    A banqueting room for up to 500 people, the Grill Room (as à la carte restaurant) and The Lord Nelson Bar opened for business. Linda of London (at the hotel) became the most popular hairdressing salon of Cape Town. A three-level car park replaced the 21 old lock-up garages.
1986:    Mrs Theresa Cohen, the longest staying guest of the Mount Nelson, died after having lived 34 years at the hotel.
1988:    Orient-Express Hotels Ltd, the luxury hotel company and sophisticated adventure travel operator, added the (151 bedrooms and suites) Mount Nelson Hotel to its portfolio.
Orient Express owner James Sherwood had the habit of always booking into the best hotel in town – a method he describes as ‘a long and patient courtship’.
1994:    The end of apartheid in South Africa prompted a dramatic increase in tourism. To meet the growing demand the Mount Nelson acquired four adjacent historic buildings, which were converted into sixty-four garden suites, bringing the total to 226 room keys. Now two heated pools serve the hotel.
1996:    The ‘Cape Colony Restaurant’ opened, decorated in colonial style with handsome murals by artist Simon Brady, serving Afro-fusion food.
2000s:    Leading executive chefs like Garth Stroebel, followed by Rudi Liebenberg, earn the hotel the reputation of being a gourmet’s temple. The new ‘Planet’ restaurant is featured among the best restaurants in the world, a recognition for its creative cooking.
The Mount Nelson Bar has been renamed Planet Bar and moved to its new location, now including parts of the terrace, a change most welcome by young Capetonians.
2014:    Orient-Express Hotels, which owns and operates 45 luxury hotels, trains, river cruises and New York’s City’s 21 restaurant, rebranded all its holdings except the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The new group name is Belmond.

Mount Nelson Hotel has also established itself as one of the city’s most socially conscious hotels by incorporating a series of environmentally savvy initiatives and receiving accreditation with The Heritage Environmental Rating Programme. The hotel has also been instrumental in helping to establish The Hotels Housing Trust – a charitable initiative which facilitates fundraising for the construction of homes in impoverished local communities.

A tiny excerpt from the Mount Nelson’s guest book, in alphabetical order

Abdulaziz bin Abdullah    Saudi Arabian politician
Adams Bryan    Canadian rock singer, composer
Ahern Bertie    Prime Minister of Ireland
Andrew    Duke of York
Barnard Christiaan    South African heart surgeon
Barrymore Drew    American actress
Bassey Shirley    Welsh singer
Beatrix     Queen of the Netherlands
Black Eyed Peas    American Hip-Hop-band
Bon Jovi    American rock band
Bono    Singer
Botha Eliza    First Lady of South Africa 1984-1989
Botha Louis    1st PM of Union of South Africa
Botha Pieter W    President of South Africa 1984-1989
Bowie David    British musician, singer, songwriter
Breytenbach Breyten    South African–French poet
Brosnan Pierce    Irish actor
Brown David     British entrepreneur (Aston Martin)
Brundtland Gro Harlem    Norwegian politician, PM
Bublé Michael    Canadian vocalist, songwriter
Bush George Sr    President of USA 1989-1993
Caine Michael    British actor
Cardoso F Henrique    Brazilian President 1995-2003
Carl Gustav & Silvia    King and Queen of Sweden
Charles & Camilla    Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall
Chissano Joaquim    President of Mozambique
Christie Agatha    British writer
Christie Linford    British sprinter, athlete
Churchill Winston    In South Africa as correspondent
Ciampi Carlo Azeglio    President of Italy
Claus van Amsberg    Prince Consort of the Netherlands
Cleese John    British actor, comedian, writer
Cloete Stuart    South African novelist and essayist
Cocker Joe    British Rock / Blues singer
Collins Jackie    British novelist
Collins Phil    British musician
Copperfield David    Illusionist
Coward Noël    British playwright,
Dalai Lama    Tenzin Gyatso
Davidtz Embeth    American actress
De Burgh Chris    Singer
De Klerk F Willem    President of South Africa
Denver John    American musician
Derek Bo    American actress
DiCaprio Leonardo    American actor and producer
Dietrich Marlene    German actress and singer.
Doyle Arthur Connan    British writer
Eccleston Christopher    British actor
Edward    Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII
Felipe    Crown Prince of Spain
Ferry Brian    British singer, songwriter and musician
Fiennes Joseph    British actor
Follett Ken    British author
Ford Jr William Clay    American, executive chairman of Ford Freeman Morgan    American actor and director
Frederick    Crown Prince of Denmark
Furnish David    Canadian film producer

Gallagher Noel    British Rock musician, Oasis
Gardner Ava    American actress
Gaultier Jean Paul    French fashion designer
Geldof Bob    Irish singer, songwriter, poitical activist
Gere Richard    American actor
Gordimer Nadine    1991 Literature Nobel Prize winner, SA
Gore Al     American politician
Graf Steffi    German tennis champion
Hamilton Lewis    British F1 racing driver
Hannah John    British actor
Harald V & Sonja    King and Queen of Norway
Harris Rolf    Australian entertainer
Hawke Ethan    American writer and actor
Hawthorne Nigel    British actor
Hayek Salma    American actress
Haysbert Dennis    American actor
Henrik    Prince Consort of Denmark
Kate Holmes    American actress
Hoppen Kelly    South African-born interior designer
Hudson Jennifer    American singer and actress
Hunter Holly    American actress
Hurt William    American actor

Iglesias Enrique    Spanish singer and entertainer
Iman    American-Somali fashion model, actress
Jackson Janet    American singer
Jackson Jesse    American politician, civil rights activist
Jackson Samuel L    American actor
Jagger Mick    British singer, Rolling Stones
Jay Kay    British musician
Jobson Robert    British author
Joel Billy    American singer, songwriter and pianist
John Elton    British singer, composer, pianist
Jonathan J. Leabua    PM of Lesotho 1965-1986   
Keyes Alicia    American singer
King Ben E    American soul singer
King Farris Christine    American author, activist
Kingston Sean    American singer, Rapper
Kipling Rudyard    British author
Kissinger Henry    US/German politician
Kitchener H Herbert    British field marshal, Earl of Kitchener
Kitt Eartha    American actress, singer
Knight Gladys    American singer and actress
Kournikova Anna    Russian-American tennis professional
Kravitz Lenny    Amrican singer-songwriter

Lee Kuan Yew    Prime Minister of Singapore
Lennon John    British musician
Liberace    American pianist
Lotti Helmut    Belgian singer and songwriter
Luther King Jr Martin     Human rights activist   
Maha Chakri Sirindhorn    Princess Royal of Thailand
Makeba Miriam    South African singer
Mandela Nelson    President of South Africa 1994-1999
Margarethe II    Queen of Denmark
Martin George    British music producer (Beatles)
Matthee Dalene    South African author
Mbeki Thabo    President of South Africa 1999-2008
McAleese Mary    President of Ireland
McCall Smith Alexander    Rhodesian-born British writer
Michael    Prince of Kent
Mogae Festus    President of Botswana
Moss Kate    British model
Moss Stirling    British racing driver
Moynahan Bridget    American actress
Nero Franco    Italian actor
Oliver Jamie    British TV-chef, restaurateur
Oppenheimer HF    South African businessman
Ozawa Seiji    Japanese conductor
Partick Robert    American actor and producer
Peres Shimon     Israeli Prime Minister, 9th President
Philip    Duke of Edinburgh
Philip Léopold    Prince of Belgium, Duke of Brabant
Pollock Graeme    South African greatest cricketer
Pounder CCH    American actress
Power Tyrone     American actor
Powers Stefanie    American film actress
Rankin Ian    Scottish crime writer
Rattray David Grey    South African historian
Redgrave Steve    British rowing champion
Reed Oliver    British actor
Rhodes Cecil John    British-South African businessman
Richie Lionel    American Soul singer, songwriter
Rihanna    Barbadian recording artist
Roberts F Sleigh    British field marshal
Robinson Mary    President of Ireland
Roxette    Swedish pop-rock-duo
Sabatini Gabriela    Argentine tennis player
Santana Carlos    American musician and guitarist
Sassou N Denis    President of Congo
Savimbi Jonas    Angolan politician and military leader
Shaggy    Jamaican Reggae-Pop musician
Shayamalan M Night    American director and actor
Sher Anthony    South-African-British actor, writer
Shuttleworth Brett    South African motivation entertainer
Skarsgard Alexander     Swedish actor
Smuts J Christiaan    PM, Union of South Africa 1919-24
Snipes Wesley    American actor, producer
Soares Mário    President of Portugal 1986-1996
Soyinka Wole    Nigerian writer, poet, playwright
Spacey Kevin     American actor
Spencer Edward    The Earl Spencer, British peer
Stallone Frank    American actor, singer and songwriter
Stewart Rod    British Rock singer
Stich Michael    German tennis champion
Suchet David    British actor
Suharto    President of Indonesia
Sutherland Donald    Canadian actor
Swanepoel Candice    South African model (Victoria’s Secret)
Swank Hilary    American actress
Taylor Alison Swift    American singer-songwriter
Tengku Abdullah    Crown Prince of Pahang, Malaysia
Thatcher Margaret    British politician, PM 1979-1990
Theron Charlize    South Africa’s first Oscar winner
Towne Robert    US screenwriter, director and producer
Townsend Stuart    Irish actor, director, producer
Tutu Desmond    South African social rights activist
Van der Post Laurens    South African-Dutch author
Vance Cyrus    US Secretary of State
Wagner Robert    American actor
Walker Eamonn    British actor
Walters Barabara    American journalist and TV presenter
Waters Roger    British Rock band musician, Pink Floyd
Wax Ruby    American-British comedian
Weinberger Caspar    American politician
Whalley Joanne    British actress
Whitaker Forest    American actor
Willem-Alexander    King of the Netherlands
Williams Robbie    British musician and entertainer
Wilson Sarah    1st woman (Boer) war correspondent
Winfrey Oprah    American talk show master
Woods Tiger    American golf champion
... and the list goes on


The grandfather clock in the Hotel Lounge dates back to the early 1800’s. It is said to have struck midnight and chimed so loudly that it could be heard from The Castle on Cape Town’s foreshore. One day an irate guest hammered two six inch nails into the chimes and for 20 years it remained silent, until a hotel guest offered to repair it. It still chimes at midnight, but not nearly as loudly.

Mount Nelson Hotel’s management celebrated the end of the First World War by decorating the hotel with a cheerful coat of pink paint. The trend towards pink hotels was popular throughout Europe for the next few decades, and so it was that Mount Nelson Hotel retained her pink blush, and is still known as ‘Cape Town’s famous pink hotel’.

A few months before his untimely death John Lennon stayed at Mount Nelson Hotel under the pseudonym ‘Mr Greenwood’. He is said to have been exceptionally tidy (he even made his own bed), he meditated on Table Mountain, spoke to his wife Yoko Ono regularly, and planned to bring her to stay at the hotel the following year.

1900-1902: During the Boer War the Mount Nelson Hotel served as the headquarters of the ‘imperial war machine’, as Elaine Hurford wrote.

If a British soldier residing at Mount Nelson Hotel during the South African War, behaved irresponsibly, he would be sent to work in the military horse stables at Stellenbosch, a town on in the outlying Cape Winelands area. The word ‘Stellenbosch’ subsequently found its way into the Oxford Dictionary as a passive verb meaning ‘to be relegated, as the result of incompetence, to a position in which little harm can be done’. 

Lady Jennie Churchill remembered ‘eating strawberries and walking in the pretty garden’, while her son Winston wrote his reports for the Morning Post in the seclusion of his luxury suite after his spectacular escape from Pretoria’s Prisoner of War Camp. He said of the hotel: ‘It is the most excellent and well-appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage’.

Officers only were allowed at the hotel at the time, but a growing group of journalists, sightseers, adventurers, wives, sweethearts and all sorts of camp followers roamed the grounds of the hotel.

Sarah Wilson, the youngest daughter of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and the world’s first female war correspondent, employed by the Daily Mail, enjoyed her peaceful suite after dreadful days and endless nights in the field.

Cecil Rhodes entertained here, H G Wells arrived and so did Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, who volunteered to join the army. Kitchener had to turn the offer of the 40-years old author down: he was too old. Finally Doyle served in a field hospital. He again put up at the Mount Nelson before returning to England. Here he started writing his books on the Boer War.

In her novel ‘A Sport of Nature’ (Bloomsbury), South African Literature Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer mentions the Mount Nelson Hotel. The line of a direct speech by one of her characters goes:
‘The farmers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers in parliament, sitting in that lovely old building at the Cape Town Gardens under the Mount Nelson Hotel where I had such a good time as a kid, staying there with my aunt.’

Sandro Fabris
Michael Pownall
Patrick Elsmie

226 Rooms
Lounge (where tea, but also meals are served)
Dining room (traditional dining),
Planets (stylish dining venue with contemporary cuisine)
The Oasis (informal poolside Bistro with terrasse)
Enjoy the gymnasium, a luxurious spa (set to open in December 2007), two heated swimming pools and two all-weather tennis courts, both fine dining and a more relaxed al fresco dining experience, whilst continuing to embrace its heritage by maintaining traditions such as the famous sumptuous afternoon teas, Garden Walks with the Head Gardener and always offering friendly yet professional service.
A legendary first class hotel offering such a wonderful ambience deserves well dressed guests. Almost everybody is aware of this.
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Mount Nelson
Country: South Africa
City: Cape Town
Opening date: 1899

Note from the Host

General Manager Xavier-LablaudeXavier Lablaude welcomes you at the Mount Nelson, the most famous and legendary hotel of South Africa.


76, Orange Street, PO Box 2608
8001 South Africa, Cape Town

Tel: +27 21 483 1000
Fax: 27 21 424 7472

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